During its 129th session, which took place across December 2020 and January 2021, the INCB held virtual consultations with senior officials from two countries that occupy very different positions within the international drug policy debates – the Philippines, and Uruguay.

The meeting with senior authorities of the Philippines focused on reviewing the country’s compliance with its own legal obligations under the UN drug conventions. According to the statement issued by the INCB afterwards, the discussion revolved around the continued reports of extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations associated to President Duterte’s national anti-drugs campaign, which have been criticised by the INCB in several instances before. The interventions of the Philippines’ representatives at the consultation have not been disclosed.

During its discussion with the authorities of the Philippines, the INCB reiterated that the UN drug conventions require states to ensure that criminal justice responses adhere to international human rights law, and standards. For more information about the evolution of the INCB’s position on human rights, please read our recent IDPC-GDPO publication: The International Narcotics Control Board on human rights: A critique of the report for 2019.

The meeting with Uruguay focused on a very different aspect of states’ obligations under the UN drug convention. In 2013, Uruguay was the first country to legally regulate the adult non-medical use of cannabis -a move that is arguably difficult to accommodate with the international drug control system, but that has been followed by dozens of jurisdictions.

According to the statement issued by the INCB after their discussion, the Board reiterated its concerns regarding the establishment of legal cannabis markets for adult use, and reminded the authorities of Uruguay that under the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, states must criminalise the production, distribution and sale of scheduled substances, including cannabis. 

In sum, the two consultations held by the INCB during its 129th session illustrate well the deep tensions within the consensus-based international drugs control system, as states are in increasing disagreement about core aspects of the regime, from the relevance of human rights in drug policies, to the validity of prohibition-based approaches to drug markets.